Lohengrin-Opernführer_opera_guide_Richard_Wagner-Synopsis_Handlung_Trama_résumé (1)

Online opera guide & synopsis to Richard Wagner’s LOHENGRIN

For a long time, Lohengrin was Richard Wagner’s most frequently performed work. King Ludwig II saw it in Munich in 1857 and left the theatre in tears. This experience should not only change his, but also Wagner’s life.






♪ Act I  (Court Scene)

♪ Act II  (Revenge Scene, Balcony scene)

♪ Act III (Wedding Scene, Farewell scene)

♪ Recording recommendation




Einsam in trüben Tagen (Elsa’s dream)

Nun sei bedankt mein lieber Schwan 

Wie kann ich solche Huld Dir lohnen  (Ortrud’s and Elsa’s duet)

Orchestervorspiel Act III

Treulich geführt  (Wedding march)

Fühl’ ich zu Dir  (Love duet)

In fernem Land  (Gral Narration)

Mein lieber Schwan











Weimar, 1850


Richard Wagner, based on various old German sagas, including. Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach and the Lohengrin poem (author unknown)


Heinrich, German king (bass) - Lohengrin, Knight of the Holy Grail (tenor) - Elsa, daughter of the late Duke of Brabant (soprano) - Gottfried, Son of the late Duke of Brabant (mute role) -Friedrich von Telramund, Brabant Count (baritone) - Ortrud, Friedrich's wife and pagan seer (mezzo-soprano)

Recording Recommendation

EMI, Elisabeth Grümmer, Jess Thomas, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Christa Ludwig, Gottlob Frick conducted by Rudolf Kempe and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the Vienna State Opera Chorus.









Story and libretto

Lohengrin is a brilliant opera, with great scenes and strong contrasts. As in Tannhäuser, Wagner juxtaposes two different worlds. In Lohengrin it is the purity of the Knights of the Grail and the dark world of the pagan magicians.

As usual, Wagner wrote the plot and libretto himself. Wagner could take many themes of the opera from various medieval legends. He had come across the Lohengrin saga, which is quoted in the Tannhäuser narrative. In the so productive Marienbad spa weeks of 1845 (where he also developed his ideas for the Tannhäuser and Meistersinger) he read Eschenbach’s Parzival and developed the story of Lohengrin, the son of the Knight of the Grail.

The fact that Lohengrin became a coherent and gripping narrative is due to Wagner, who welded the various sagas and fragments together with his idea and developed portraits of people with psychological depth.




In the fall of 1845 Wagner wrote the prose version and in the spring the textbook was finished. It was not until 1848 that he completed the composition, since he was very busy as Kapellmeister in Dresden. In that year Wagner joined the Dresden revolutionaries and he had to flee head over heels in the summer, which made his dream of performing the opera in Dresden vanish into thin air. Only his friend Franz Liszt was able to successfully premiere the work in Weimar in 1850.



The forbidden question – the interpretation of the work

Viele Bücher und Aufsätze sind zu diesem Thema geschrieben worden. Im Allgemeinen ist die verbotene Frage als ein Gleichnis der bedingungslosen Liebe zu verstehen, wie sie z.B. von der Kirche gefordert wird. Die Ursprungsfrage käme einer Entmystifizierung des Göttlichen gleich und würde damit zu seinem Machtverlust führen.

Gerade in Lohengrin geht die Interpretation eine Ebene tiefer. Lohengrin steht für Wagner für den Künstler, der “von seinem Publikum über das Rationale hinaus vorbehaltlos empfangen und verstanden werden will”. Letztlich ist der Gral die Freiheit des Künstlers.

Und Elsa? Wagner selbst sah Elsa als “das Unbewusste”. Darin versucht Lohengrin, der das Bewusste repräsentiert, sich zu erlösen (nach einem Brief Wagners). Ihr Tod kann so verstanden werden, dass Lohengrin (der Künstler) nur angebetet und nicht verstanden wurde, so dass sie nach seiner Herkunft fragen musste.

Lohengrins wahrer Widersacher ist nicht Friedrich von Telramund, sondern Ortrud. Diese Person war keine Sagengestalt, sondern eher eine geniale Schöpfung Wagners. Ortrud ist die Zauberin in der Tradition der heidnischen Religion, die im 2. Akt die germanischen Götter Freia und Wotan anruft. Diese Oper wird fast zu einer Schlacht zwischen dem Reich Gottes (bedingungslose Liebe) und dem Heidentum (magische Kraft).

Analysiert man Ortrud auch eine Ebene tiefer, kann man sie als die Reaktionärin (Wagner in einem Brief) verstehen, die sich dem revolutionären Künstler (Lohengrin bzw. Wagner) entgegenstellt. Am Ende scheitern beide, der Künstler, weil er die Anerkennung nicht erhält, und der Reaktionär, weil die Geschichte ihn nicht rechtfertigt. Der Künstler aber schafft Raum für das Neue (Gottfried) und wird von diesem erlöst.




In Lohengrin Wagner used leitmotifs, but they still differ considerably from the later leitmotifs of the ring. In Lohengrin, the motifs are longer – they are themes rather than motifs – and they are not getting as artfully interwoven and developed as in his later works. Two of the main motifs (the Grail motif and the Lohengrin motif) are introduced in the section on Elsa’s dream narrative. Two other important motifs are the question motif and the Ortrud motif:

  • Ortrud Motif:


  • Question Motif:


The Ortrud motif is interesting for two reasons: on the one hand, it is written in F sharp minor and as a minor parallel diametrically opposed to the A major Grail motif, so Wagner musically positions Ortrud as Lohengrin’s opponent. Furthermore, it is related to the so-called question motif, Wagner thus musically establishes a connection between Ortrud and the forbidden question.



Wagner’s last romantic opera

Lohengrin is occasionally called “Wagner’s last romantic opera”, a work with scenes that still have a number character. The first two acts also show ensemble scenes that could have come from the Meyerbeer Grand Opéra. Nevertheless, this opera took Wagner’s work one step further towards musical drama. The folkloric style of the Flying Dutchman or the arias of the Tannhäuser are passé, the work is musically structured.

Wagner finished this opera at the age of 35. The next opera Wagner wrote was to be the Rheingold five years later, where he began to fulfill his claim to musical drama with the beginning of the Ring.







Prehistory: The German King Heinrich has come to Brabant. He wants to oblige this part of his empire to join the fight against the Hungarian attackers. In Brabant there is a dispute. The deceased count had two children, Elsa and Gottfried. He placed them under the guardianship of Count Friedrich von Telramund and promised him Elsa’s hand. But she refused to marry him. Then Friedrich married Ortrud. After the mysterious death of Gottfried, Friedrich accused Elsa of killing Gottfried with the help of a mysterious man.


Vorspiel – Solti / Vienna Philharmonic



The King must judge Elsa

SynopsisNow the king is to judge in front of the court tree. Elsa is given the opportunity to defend herself in court. She appears and makes an absent impression, she is still in a state of shock caused by the death of her brother.

Seht hin, sie erscheint, die hart Beklagte  –  Kempe


Elsa’s dream

Synopsis: Instead of defending herself, Elsa tells of her grief over the death of her brother and of a dream that a knight will appear who will fight for her and prove her innocence.

After a short beginning of flutes and strings the Gralmotiv appears and Elsa begins her dream with a pure and luminous voice. The slow tempo intensifies the feeling of loneliness. It is  followed by a great crescendo beginning with “da drang aus meinem Stöhnen”. Elsa sinks to sleep and a beautiful orchestral transition leads into the Grail motif. And her vision begins…

We hear this scene in two interpretations.

Gundula Janowitz’s interpretation of this aria is simply great. We hear in this aria the purity, vulnerability and confidence of Elsa. Her crescendo is breathtaking and the ending is outworldly.

Einsam in trüben Tagen  –  Janowitz

The Grail Motif (2:20):



In the winds we hear the Lohengrin-Motif (2:50):



Anna Netrebkos is obviously trying hard to articulate the German well, which she also succeeds. In an interview with the FAZ, she confessed: “Now I’ll tell you a secret: I can’t memorize any German text. Perhaps my brain is too organized in Russian after all, it is simply not capable of it. French, Italian, I can sing all that, but German lyrics are too difficult for me. “Lonely in gloomy days”, okay, until then. Silenzio, end, I can’t remember how it goes on. I got a teleprompter for the Elsa in Dresden. Christian Thielemann had made it clear to me that it all depends on the words. He said he didn’t want to hear any musical lines from me, he wanted to hear tttexssssttt! Vowels! consonants! Elsa was really hard. Now I sing Puccini first. ”

Besides the piano passages, the expressive, colorful deep passages are particularly beautiful.

Einsam in trüben Tagen  –  Netrebko


Synopsis: Next, Friedrich speaks. He refuses to produce any evidence for his accusation. Instead, he refers to his merits in protecting the empire from the Danish attack. He proposes to the king a judgment of God, a duel between him and the mysterious protector of Elsa. The latter agrees and promises her hand and the throne to the one who fights for her. But no one answers. Because this would amount to a guilty verdict of God,

At this point Wagner has written a virtuoso choral passage. The theater man Wagner composed this passage brilliantly, the drama of Lohengrin’s appearance is palpable.

Du trugest zu ihm meine Klage  –  Studer



Lohengrin appears in silver armor

Synopsis: The kings herald repeats his call. From a distance a barque pulled by a swan appears Lohengrin,  in silver armour, with helmet and sword emerges from the boat. People look spellbound at the knight. Frederick is horrified.

Lohengrin’s appearance together with the swan is one of the great challenges in the staging of this opera.  How to stage the emergence of the swan without provoking plumpness or even ridicule. Musically, Wagner presents us with an overwhelming passage that is meant to speak for itself, consciously relieving the director of the pressure to step into the trap of overstaging. Fanfares, a long crescendo, brass and a virtuoso choir section show the great theatre man Wagner.

Wer hier im Gotteskampf zu streiten kam  – Nienstedt




Placido Domingo’s Lohengrin

Franz Liszt, the conductor of the premiere and Wagner’s confidante, wrote an interesting commentary on this scene. He emphasized that in this passage the tenor’s timbre requires grace, velvety and softness, which is far less of the usual Wagner tenor with its vocal power.

Domingo sang Lohengrin for the first time in 1968, but he saw that he was not yet ready. The voice suffered from the strain. And only 15 years later he sang it again. With a lot of bel canto he meets Franz Liszt’s demand.

The critics agreed that Domino’s Lohengrin is a great asset. The splendour of his voice and lyrical bel canto create a captivating, harmonious picture and delight the listener.

There were only discussions about articulation. His German pronunciation has great weaknesses. The majority of the critics did not mind, Arnold Whittal even mockingly said that “after all, Lohengrin is a stranger in Brabant, and Monsalvat is closer to Madrid than to any northern city”. Of course, there were also purists who described the accent as no-go.

Nun sei bedankt, mein lieber Schwan  –  Domingo



The forbidden question

Synopsis: Elsa repeats her vow to marry her savior. Lohengrin promises to fight for her, but only on condition that she never asks him for his name or origin..

In this scene of Lohengrin we hear Peter Seiffert. Seiffert has been one of the great Wagner tenors since the 90s. Lohengrin was the first role with which he caused international sensation.

Zum Kampf für eine Magd zu stehn  –  Seiffert



The duel

Synopsis: The noblemen recommend Frederick not to fight against the knight, who is protected by higher powers. But Frederick prefers to die rather than being a coward. He faces the battle. Solemnly all participants swear to accept God’s judgment of the coming battle. The Nobleman leave the fighting area marking off a circle with their swords. The fight begins and Lohengrin wins. When Frederick is lying on the ground Lohengrin spares him his life.

The judgment of God has no great significance in the interpretation of the work, but it is very important for the logic of history, since Lohengrin thereby receives the legimitation of the leader. But this is only a superficial sign, since the true legitimation is based on his descent.

Nun hört! Euch Edlen tu ich kund  –  Thomas / Grümmer










Einleitung  –  Kempe



The great scene of Elsa and Ortrud

Synopsis: Ortrud and Friedrich sit abandoned in front of the church. Friedrich reproaches his wife bitterly. She had testified to him that she had seen Elsa kill her brother, and now God has revealed this as a lie. Ortrud stands by her word and explains that the knight had only won by with his magical strength. Revenge is possible, however, if Frederick manages to create suspicion in Elsa, so that she asks Lohengrin for her name and origin. Then the knight’s spell would be broken. At that moment Elsa appears on the balcony.

Wagner composed twenty minutes of music for the this scene of Elsa and Ortrud. We hear this passage in 3 sections. We start with the balcony scene of Elsa.

In this section we hear an absolute dream cast. Hardly any singer could bring so much warmth into her voice as Elisabeth Grümmer (Elsa) and Christa Ludwig (Ortrud) showed a great Ortrud in several recordings.

Euch Lüften, die mein Klagen  –  Grümmer / Ludwig



In the fall of 1845 Wagner wrote the prose version and in the spring the textbook was finished. It was not until 1848 that he completed the composition, since he was very busy as Kapellmeister in Dresden. In that year Wagner joined the Dresden revolutionaries and he had to flee head over heels in the summer, which made his dream of performing the opera in Dresden vanish into thin air. Only his friend Franz Liszt was able to successfully premiere the work in Weimar in 1850.

Synopsis: Ortrud sends Friedrich away. She tells Elsa that she had been rejected by Telramund. Seized with pity, Elsa takes Ortrud in. Ortrud sets off for Elsa’s chamber. She triumphs silently.

This scene is one of Ortrud’s key scenes. Kesting said about the following recording with Varnay that no singer had approached “Entweihte Götter” (Ye gods profaned”) with the shrill unconditionality like her.

Entweihte Götter! Helft jetzt meiner Rache – Varnay


Synopsis: Hypocritically, Ortrud pretends to be grateful to Elsa and recommends that she be on her guard. For the god-sent knigh could just as soon disappear as he arrived. She starts to undermine Elsas belief in Lohengrin.

This duet is said to bear a likeness to Bellini’s music. In fact, Wagner respected the Sicilian for his gentle melodies. Wagner has seen Bellini’s “Romeo and Juliet work” (titled “I Capuleti e Montecchi”) several times and was deeply impressed. The duets between the soprano and the mezzo of this opera (Romeo is a trouser part) were probably a model for this scene. By chance (or not) in the first part of this scene Ortrud calls Elsa, who is standing on a balcony (!!!), with enticing, ornamented singing. Towards the end of the duet the two voices unite in best Italian manner – a great scene.

We hear again Elisabeth Grümmer and Christa Ludwig, in one of Richard Wagner’s most beautiful duets.

Du ärmste kannst wohl nicht ermessen  –  Grümmer / Ludwig


Synopsis: Friedrich triumphs and sees the hour of revenge come.

Accompanied by ghostly music, Friedrich appears.

So zieht das Unheil in dieses Haus  –  Fischer-Dieskau




Telramund is being outlawed

Synopsis: It’s getting day. The square fills with people and the nobles arrive at the palace.

This act begins with a beautiful morning scene. With fanfares and choirs Wagner creates a great atmosphere.

In Frühn versammelt uns unser Ruf  –  Kempe


Synopsis: The king’s herald announces that Frederick is outlawed after he has lost the trial by combat. He also announces the marriage of Lohengrin and Elsa, which is still taking place today. Lohengrin is said to be the commander who is to lead the Brabants into war against the Hungarians.

The king’s herald and the king solemnly announce the news. A lot of brass and beautiful choir scenes accompany this scene.

Zum Streite zäumet nicht  –  Wiener / Frick



Telramund’s scheme

Synopsis: Four nobles consult in secret. The king wants to lead the country into a war against an enemy who has never threatened them and debate on how to confront the king. Then Frederick steps into their midst and offers himself as their leader. The preparation of the wedding begins. Four pages announce Elsa’s arrival in the church.

Macht Platz für Elsa, unsere Frau



A solemn procession

Synopsis: Elsa appears accompanied by a long procession of nobles in front of the church.

Gesegnet soll sie schreiten  –  Kempe



Ortrud interrupts the wedding ceremony

Synopsis: Suddenly Ortrud appears. She accuses Elsa of unjustly receiving the royal crown. Elsa recognizes her mistake of having trusted Ortrud. She accuses Elsa of having given herself to an unknown person. Elsa accuses her of blasphemy because Lohengrin won the battle of God. Ortrud now accuses Lohengrin of using a spell that gives him power.

This scene is highly dramatic, a battle of words between Ortrud and Elsa. Wagner deliberately orchestrated this scene sparsely in order to ensure the comprehensibility of the words. The scene of the two women is repeatedly interrupted by interjections from the choir, which greatly increases the drama of the situation.

Zurück Elsa, nicht länger will ich dulden  –  Ludwig


Synopsis: Lohengrin and Heinrich appear and notice the tumult. Lohengrin sends Ortrud away and tries to calm Elsa down. When the wedding ceremony starts, Friedrich appears and accuses the stranger of sorcery. Only if he reveals his origin, name and status any doubts could be dispelled. Lohengrin declares to be accountable only to Elsa. Heinrich speaks out for Lohengrin.

O König! Trugbetörte Fürsten! Haltet ein!



A great ensemble piece

Synopsis: But with Elsa the doubts are sown.

Wagner has written a brilliant, polyphonic piece at this point.

Welch ein Geheimnis muss der Held bewahren  –  Kempe


Synopsis: Unnoticed, Friedrich approaches Elsa and tells her, that he will be near her tonight. When she calls him, he will cut off a tiny part of Lohengrin’s body, then his spell will be broken, and Lohengrin will never leave her. Lohengrin chases him away and asks Elsa if she is ready for the wedding ceremony. She affirms her commitment and the wedding ceremony is celebrated in the minster.

Mein Held! Entgegne kühn dem Ungetreuen  –  Kempe








The last act begins with a great prelude.

Vorspiel  –  Barenboim



In the bedroom – the famous wedding song

Synopsis: Elsa and Lohengrin are taken to the bridal chamber. They are alone with each other for the first time.

At this point Wagner’s famous wedding march can be heard.

Treulich geführt – Burgos


The love duet with discords

Synopsis: Elsa regrets that she does not know his name in this beautiful hour.

Domingo sings this scene wonderfully lyrical and gives the scene a beautiful luster.

Fühl’ ich zu Dir (Duett)  –  Norman / Domingo



Elsa asks the forbidden question

Synopsis: Lohengrin emphasizes that he saved her in great distress and that he deserves her trust. Elsa expresses her fear that he has something to hide. Lohengrin emphatically demands her trust and reminds her of her promise not to ask about his origin. But this reinforces Elsa’s fear that one day he will leave her. Lohengrin swears eternal allegiance to her, but that is not enough for Elsa. She is obsessed with the thought, that the day will come when the swan will pick him up again and she asks Lohengrin the unfortunate question.

Atmest Du nicht mit mir die süßen Düfte  –  Grümmer / Thomas



Frederick enters the sleeping chamber

Synopsis: Suddenly the armed Frederick enters the sleeping chamber together with his four conspirators. Elsa notices them and can hand Lohengrin his sword. Frederick jumps at his adversary and is killed  by Lohengrin’s sword.

In this recording we hear Klaus Florian Vogt. He is a sought-after Wagner tenor. He has a characteristical  voice, it has a silvery bright, light, boyish voice, which “carries” in the opera house. (Kesting).

Höchstes Vertrauen hast Du mir zu danken – Vogt



The dream is over

Synopsis: Lohengrin is shaken. It is over. On his order Elsa is accompanied out by the Kammerzofen.

Deep silence is spreading. It is no longer the silence of happiness. One can still hear motifs of happiness in the orchestra, but they no longer have the sweetness of delight.

Weh, nun ist all unser Glück dahin  –  Domingo



The morning – the army parade

Synopsis: It’s morning. The nobles arrive with their troups. Heinrich welcomes the soldiers in a solemn ceremony.

Heil König Heinrich  –  Schnaut



Lohengrins final appearance – the Grail Narrative

Synopsis: The ceremonial act is abruptly interrupted when Friedrich’s body is carried in and Elsa appears deeply saddened. She is followed by Lohengrin who reports to the king that he will not lead the army. He tells that Elsa has broken her oath, and he solemnly proclaims his origin to all. He is a knight of the Holy Grail, coming from Montsalvat Castle. His father is Parzival. He himself is his knight, called Lohengrin. He was sent out by the Grail to fight evil and defend virtue.

Similar to the Tannhäuser with the Roman tale of the last act, the tenor must sing his most important section at the end of the opera. This means that the singer must have sufficient vocal power to bring this section to a climax of the evening. In Lohengrin, the task is “easier” than in Tannhäuser since the Grail narration (“In fernem Land”) and his farewell (“Mein lieber Schwan”) are lyrical pieces with an almost bel canto character, while the Roman Tale requires a dramatic voice.

Lohengrin’s story is composed in a solemn, measured tempo. The voice must be dignified, yet light, brilliant and mysterious, far from being pathetic or heroic. With a solemn voice he sings the annual miracle «Alljährlich naht vom Himmel eine Taube um neu zu stärken seine Wunderkraft. Es heisst der Gral» (“Every year a dove approaches from heaven to strengthen its miracle power anew. It is called the Grail)”. A beautiful soft forte in A shines over the buzzing sound of the violins. The high tessitura of the following passage keeps the drama and solemnity high. It is a demanding passage for the tenor, who has to keep up the vocal power without overexerting the voice. At the end Lohengrin reveals his name. Now the voice changes, it becomes magnificent, glorious and heroic, by no means hollow, but noble. It is the highlight and key of the opera.

When Lohengrin tells of his origins, the orchestra shines in radiant A major. It is a bright, high key that announces the heavenly spheres of the Grail. High shimmering violins convey a feeling of an etheric rapture.

We hear this piece in differten interpretations. We start with Jussi Björling’s.

“A few weeks before his death, Björling sang the story of the Grail for the first and last time in public. Even if the Swedish language is not necessarily suitable for the Lohengrin, even if it is still at the beginning in terms of interpretation, is sung too burschikos and also contains a musical error – here it is, the ideal Lohengrin voice. Björlings has perhaps been the greatest loss to Wagner’s singing imaginable: Distance and distance from the world and painfully tinted sensuality”. (Fischer, great voices)

In fernem Land (1) –  Björling


We hear a second recording from 1940 from another Scandinavian Singer. The Dane Lauritz Melchior was perhaps the greatest Wagner tenor in history. His vocal reserves seem inexhaustible and his diction is excellent, probably dating back to his Bayreuth days, when he rehearsed the role with Cosima Wagner.

In fernem Land (2) –  Melchior


In the next recording we hear Franz Völkers. Völkers Lohengrin is among the great of Wagner singing.  Kesting: “His Lohengrin under Tietjen belongs to the fulfilling moments of Wagner singing. He captivates with an expressive phrasing and a tone of lyrical magic.” Fischer (great voices): “In the thirties, Völker set Lohengrin standards that have not been surpassed to this day. His combination of heroic baritonal power and lyrical sensibility was balm for the souls and ears of those Wagnerians who were fed up with “Bell-Canto”. (bell is german and means “the dog’s bark”).

In fernem Land (3) – Völker



Elsa’s death – for once no Wagnerian redemption death

Synopsis: Elsa recognizes her mistake. Lohengrin announces that protection of divine power has ended with Elsas forbidden question and the revelation of his name. The swan appears on the lake. Lohengrin hands over sword and ring to Elsa and says goodbye to her. Ortrud appears with a triumphant scorn she explains that the swan is none other than the enchanted Gottfried, the disappeared brother of Elsa. Lohengrin falls to his knees and prays. A white dove appears. The swan sinks beneath the waves, and in its place stands Gottfried, freed from the spell.  Elsa embraces her brother and collapses dead.

When Wagner started composing, the story of the Grail was the first section he set to music. Already during the writing of the prose Wagner captured the leitmotifs of the opera.

The death of Elsa is the only tragic death in Wagner’s work. Otherwise all women’s deaths have a meaning in their redemption death. But Elsa is not a redeemer, because Lohengrin sues her bitterly.


The swan song – Lohengrin says goodbye

At the end we hear Jonas Kaufmann. His voice is romantic and heroic and captivates with beautiful diminuendi and pianissimi. Lohengrin is probably Kaufmann’s best Wagner role.

Mein lieber Schwan  –  Kaufmann





Recording recommendation of the opera LOHENGRIN


EMI, Elisabeth Grümmer, Jess Thomas, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Christa Ludwig, Gottlob Frick under the direction of Rudolf Kempe and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the Vienna State Opera Choir




Peter Lutz, opera-inside, the online opera guide on LOHENGRIN by Richard Wagner.








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